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United States Patent 7,643,333
Daley January 5, 2010

Process for erasing chalcogenide variable resistance memory bits

Abstract

A method of erasing a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is provided. The chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell includes a p-doped substrate with an n-well and a chalcogenide variable resistance memory element. The method includes the step of applying to the variable resistance memory element a voltage that is less than a fixed voltage of the substrate. The applied voltage induces an erase current to flow from the p-doped substrate through the n-well and through the variable resistance memory element.


Inventors: Daley; Jon (Boise, ID)
Assignee: Micron Technology, Inc. (Boise, ID)
Appl. No.: 11/745,209
Filed: May 7, 2007


Related U.S. Patent Documents

Application NumberFiling DatePatent NumberIssue Date
11176884Jul., 20057233520

Current U.S. Class: 365/163 ; 365/148; 365/63
Current International Class: G11C 11/00 (20060101); G11C 5/06 (20060101)
Field of Search: 365/148,163

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Primary Examiner: Pham; Ly D
Attorney, Agent or Firm: Dickstein Shapiro LLP

Parent Case Text



This application is a continuation of application Ser. No. 11/176,884, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,233,520, filed Jul. 8, 2005, the subject matter of which is incorporated in its entirety by reference herein.
Claims



What is claimed as new and desired to be protected by Letters Patent of the United States is:

1. A method of changing the resistance of a variable resistance memory cell which includes at least a variable resistance memory element formed over a doped semiconductor of a first conductivity type, the doped semiconductor containing a well of a second conductivity type, the method comprising: when an access device coupled to the memory element is not active, applying a voltage differential across the variable resistance memory element to thereby induce a current capable of changing the resistance of the memory element to flow through the semiconductor of a first conductivity type and contained well and through the variable resistance memory element.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the first conductivity type is p-type, and the second conductivity type is n-type.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to an array of variable resistance memory cells.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied periodically in order to reset the variable resistance memory cell.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied at memory power-up or power-down in order to reset the variable resistance memory cell.

6. The method of claim 1, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to a variable resistance memory cell whose voltage/resistance curve has shifted below a minimum erasure resistance level.

7. A variable resistance memory device comprising: a semiconductor of a first conductivity type containing a well of a second conductivity type; and a memory cell comprising: a variable resistance memory element over said semiconductor; and a circuit for inducing currents in said variable resistance memory element, said circuit being selectively operative to apply a voltage differential across the variable resistance memory element to thereby induce a current capable of changing the resistance of the memory element to flow through the semiconductor of a first conductivity type through the contained well of a second conductivity type and through the variable resistance memory element.

8. The variable resistance memory device of claim 7, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a metal ion doped chalcogenide glass.

9. The variable resistance memory device of claim 7, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a geranium-selenide glass.

10. The variable resistance memory device of claim 9, wherein the geranium-selenide glass has a stoichiometry of Ge.sub.XSe.sub.(100-X), where x ranges from 20 to 43.

11. The variable resistance memory device of claim 7, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied periodically in order to reset the memory cell.

12. The variable resistance memory device of claim 7, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied at memory power-up or power-down in order to reset the memory cell.

13. The variable resistance memory device of claim 7, wherein the voltage/resistance curve of the memory cell has shifted below a minimum erasure resistance level.

14. An array of variable resistance memory devices, comprising: a semiconductor of a first conductivity type containing a well of a second conductivity type; and a plurality of memory devices, each comprising: a variable resistance memory element over the semiconductor; and a circuit for inducing currents in said variable resistance memory element, said circuit being selectively operative to apply a voltage differential across the variable resistance memory element to thereby induce a current capable of changing the resistance of the memory element to flow through the semiconductor of a first conductivity type through the contained well of a second conductivity type and through the variable resistance memory element wherein the plurality of memory devices are arranged over the semiconductor in rows and columns, wherein each row of memory devices is connected along a respective bit line and each column of memory devices is connected along a respective word line.

15. The array of claim 14, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a metal ion doped chalcogenide glass.

16. The array of claim 14, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a geranium-selenide glass.

17. The array of claim 16, wherein the geranium-selenide glass has a stoichiometry of Ge.sub.XSe.sub.(100-X), where x ranges from 20 to 43.

18. The array of claim 14, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to the array of memory devices.

19. The array of claim 14, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied periodically in order to reset at least one of the memory devices in the array.

20. The array of claim 14, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied at memory power-up or power-down in order to reset at least one of the memory devices in the array.

21. The array of claim 14, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to at least one of the memory devices in the array whose voltage/resistance curve has shifted below a minimum erasure resistance level.

22. A processing system, comprising: a processor for receiving and processing data; at least one memory array for exchanging data with the processor; and a memory controller for managing memory access requests from the processor to the at least one memory array, wherein each of the at least one memory array includes: a semiconductor of a first conductivity type containing a well of a second conductivity type; and a plurality of memory devices, each comprising: a variable resistance memory element over the semiconductor; and a circuit for inducing currents in said variable resistance memory element, said circuit being selectively operative to apply a voltage differential across the variable resistance memory element to thereby induce a current capable of changing the resistance of the memory element to flow through the semiconductor of a first conductivity type through the contained well of a second conductivity type and through the variable resistance memory element wherein the plurality of memory devices are arranged over the semiconductor in rows and columns, wherein each row of memory devices is connected along a respective bit line and each column of memory devices is connected along a respective word line.

23. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a metal ion doped chalcogenide glass.

24. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the variable resistance memory element is a geranium-selenide glass.

25. The processing system of claim 24 wherein the geranium-selenide glass has a stoichiometry of Ge.sub.XSe.sub.(100-X), where x ranges from 20 to 43.

26. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to the at least one array of memory devices.

27. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied periodically in order to reset at least one of the memory devices in the at least one array.

28. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied at memory power-up or power-down in order to reset at least one of the memory devices in the at least one array.

29. The processing system of claim 22, wherein the applied voltage differential is applied to at least one of the memory devices in the at least one array whose voltage/resistance curve has shifted below a minimum erasure resistance level.
Description



FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates generally to the field of semiconductor devices and, more particularly, to variable resistance memory devices.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Microprocessor-accessible memory devices have traditionally been classified as either non-volatile or volatile memory devices. Non-volatile memory devices are capable of retaining stored information even when power to the memory device is turned off. However, non-volatile memory devices occupy a large amount of space and consume large quantities of power, making these devices unsuitable for use in portable devices or as substitutes for frequently-accessed volatile memory devices. On the other hand, volatile memory devices tend to provide greater storage capability and programming options than non-volatile memory devices. Volatile memory devices also generally consume less power than non-volatile devices. However, volatile memory devices require a continuous power supply in order to retain stored memory content.

Commercially viable memory devices that are both randomly accessed and semi-volatile or non-volatile are desired. Various implementations of such semi-volatile and nonvolatile random access memory devices are being developed. These devices store data in a plurality of memory cells by structurally or chemically changing the resistance across the memory cells in response to predetermined voltages applied to the memory cells. Examples of variable resistance memory devices being investigated include memories using variable resistance polymers, perovskite, doped amorphous silicon, phase-changing glasses, or doped chalcogenide glass, among others.

In a variable resistance memory cell, a first value may be written to the variable resistance memory cell by applying a voltage having a predetermined level. The applied voltage changes the electrical resistance across the memory cell. A second value, or the default value, may be written or restored in the memory cell by applying a second voltage to the memory cell, thereby changing the resistance across the memory cell to the original resistance level. The second voltage is typically a negative voltage in comparison to the first voltage and may or may not have the same magnitude as the first voltage. Each resistance state is stable, so that the memory cells are capable of retaining their stored values without being frequently refreshed. The variable resistance materials can thus be "programmed" to any of the stable resistance values.

The content of a variable resistance memory cell is read or "accessed" by applying a read voltage to determine the resistance level across the cell. The magnitude of the read voltage is lower than the magnitude of the voltage required to change the resistance of the variable resistance memory cell. In a binary variable resistance memory cell, upon determining the resistance level of the variable resistance memory cell, the detected resistance level is compared with a reference resistance level. Generally, if the detected resistance level is greater than the reference level, the memory cell is determined to be in the "off" state. On the other hand, if the detected resistance level is less than the reference level, the memory cell is determined to be in the "on" state.

FIG. 1 shows a basic composition of a variable resistance memory cell 10 constructed over a substrate 12, having a variable resistance material 16 formed between two electrodes 14, 18. One type of variable resistance material may be amorphous silicon doped with V, Co, Ni, Pd, Fe and Mn as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,541,869 to Rose et al. Another type of variable resistance material may include perovskite materials such as Pr.sub.(1-x)Ca.sub.xMnO.sub.3 (PCMO), La.sub.(1-x)Ca.sub.xMnO.sub.3 (LCMO), LaSrMnO.sub.3 (LSMO), GdBaCo.sub.xO.sub.y (GBCO) as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,473,332 to Ignatiev et al. Still another type of variable resistance material may be a doped chalcogenide glass of the formula A.sub.xB.sub.y, where "B" is selected from among S, Se and Te and mixtures thereof, and where "A" includes at least one element from Group IIIA (B, Al, Ga, In, Tl), Group IVA (C, Si, Ge, Sn, Pb), Group VA (N, P, As, Sb, Bi), or Group VIIA (F, Cl, Br, I, At) of the periodic table, and with the dopant being selected from among the noble metals and transition metals, including Ag, Au, Pt, Cu, Cd, Ir, Ru, Co, Cr, Mn or Ni, as disclosed in U.S. Published Application Nos. 2003/0045054 and 2003/0047765 to Campbell et al. and Campbell, respectively. Yet another type of variable resistance material includes a carbon-polymer film comprising carbon black particulates or graphite, for example, mixed into a plastic polymer, such as that disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,072,716 to Jacobson et al. The material used to form the electrodes 14, 18 can be selected from a variety of conductive materials, such as tungsten, nickel, tantalum, titanium, titanium nitride, aluminum, platinum, or silver, among others.

In FIG. 2, a typical prior art variable resistance memory cell 100 is shown to include an access device 102, a variable resistance memory element 104, and a cell plate 110. The access device 102 is a transistor having a gate 102a coupled to a word line 106 and one terminal (source) 102b coupled to a bit line 108. The other terminal (drain) 102c of the access device 102 is coupled to one end of the variable resistance memory element 104, while the other end of the variable resistance memory element 104 is coupled to the cell plate 110. The cell plate 110 may span and be coupled to several other variable resistance memory cells, and may form the anode of all the memory elements 104 in an array of variable resistance memory cells. The cell plate 110 is also coupled to a potential source 112.

A representative diagram of the physical structure of the prior art memory cell 100 is shown in FIG. 3. In particular, a p-doped substrate 126 includes two n-wells 120, 122. Access device 102 is formed on the surface of the substrate 126 between the two n-wells 120, 122, so that the two n-wells 120, 122 serve as the source 102b and drain 102c, respectively, of the access device 102. Word line 106 is formed as a conductive strip extending into the page across the top of access device 102. Bit line 108 is connected directly to the n-well 120 forming the source 102b of the access device 102. Variable resistance memory element 104 is formed on the substrate with its cathode 114 in contact with n-well 122 and the cell plate 110 (only a portion of which is shown) as its anode. The cell plate 110 of memory element 104 is connected to a potential source 112.

In the conventional operating scheme for the cell 100, when the memory element 104 is idle, the voltage across the anode 110 and the cathode 114 is below a threshold voltage V.sub.G. The value of the threshold voltage V.sub.G is a function of the specific variable resistance material used in the memory element 104. In order to perform any access operations including programming the variable resistance memory element 104 to the low resistance state, erasing a programmed variable resistance memory element 104 by returning the variable resistance memory element 104 to the high resistance state, or reading the value stored in memory element 104, the threshold voltage V.sub.G must be applied to the word line 106. The voltage V.sub.G on the word line 106 activates the gate 102a of the access device 102 so that an n-channel is formed in the substrate 126 under the gate structure of the access device 102 and across the gap between the two n-wells 120, 122 thus activating the access device 102. Upon activating the access device 102, the memory element 104 can be programmed to the low resistance state by applying a write (positive) voltage having at least the magnitude of a threshold voltage V.sub.TW across the memory element 104.

In conventional operating schemes, application of the write voltage may be achieved by raising the potential at the cell plate 110 (anode) relative to the access device drain 102b by applying or raising the voltage at the potential source 112, lowering the potential of the bit line 108, or a combination of both. To erase a programmed memory element 104, a negative voltage having a magnitude of at least a threshold erase voltage is applied between the anode and the cathode of the memory element 104, such that the potential at the cell plate 110 is lower than the potential of the bit line 108.

Variable resistance memory cells are arranged as an array of memory cells and are written, erased, and read using a controller. FIG. 4 illustrates a prior art memory device 200 comprising an array of memory cells 100a-100f arranged in rows and columns. The memory cells 100a-100f along any given bit line 108a, 108b do not share a common word line 106a-106c. Conversely, the memory cells 100a-100f along an), given word line 106a-106c do not share a common bit line 108a-108b. In this manner, each memory cell is uniquely identified by the combined selection of the word line to which the gate of the memory cell access device is connected, and the bit line to which the source of the memory cell access device is connected.

Each word line 106a-106c is connected to a word line driver 202a-202c via a respective transistor 204a-204c for selecting the respective word line for an access operation. The gates of the transistors 204a-204c are used to selectively couple or decouple the word lines 106a-106c to or from the word line drivers 202a-202c. Similarly, each bit line 108a, 108b is coupled to a driver 206a, 206b via selector gates 208a, 208b. The current and/or resistance of a selected memory cell 100a-100f is measured by sensor amplifiers 210a, 210b connected respectively to the bit lines 108a, 108b.

For simplicity, FIG. 4 illustrates a memory array having only two rows of memory cells 100 on two bit lines 108a-108b and three columns of memory cells 100 on three word lines 106a-106c. However, it should be understood that in practical applications, memory devices would have significantly more cells in an array. For example, an actual memory device may include several million memory cells 100 arranged in a number of subarrays.

While the overall operating scheme of the memory device 200 may be similar regardless of the type of variable resistance material used in the memory elements, much research has focused on memory devices using memory elements having doped chalcogenide materials as the variable resistance material. More specifically, memory cells having a variable resistance material formed of germanium-selenide glass having a stoichiometry of Ge.sub.xSe.sub.(100-x), with x ranging from about 20 to about 43, which are doped with metal ions, have been shown to be particularly promising for providing a viable commercial alternative to traditional random-access memory devices.

Generally, a metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell having such stoichiometry has an initial "off" state resistance of over 100 k (for example, 1 M). To perform a write operation on a chalcogenide memory cell in its normal high resistive state, a voltage having at least a threshold potential is applied to the electrode serving as the anode, with the cathode held at the reference potential or ground. Upon applying the threshold level or write voltage, the resistance across the memory cell changes to a level dramatically reduced from the resistance in its normal state. The new resistance of the memory cell is less than 100 k (for example, 20 k). The cell is considered to be in the "on" state while in the low-resistive state.

The variable resistance memory cell retains this new lower level of resistivity until the resistivity is changed by another qualifying voltage level applied to one of the electrodes of the cell. For example, the memory cell is returned to the high resistance state by applying an erase voltage thereto in the negative direction of the voltage applied in the write operation (to achieve the lower resistance state). The erase voltage may or may not be the same magnitude as the write voltage, but is at least of the same order of magnitude.

Such chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells can retain a low-resistance state for several hours, days, or even weeks and are relatively non-volatile compared with typical random-access memory devices. However, while metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells in the high resistance state are completely non-volatile, variable resistance memory cells written to the low resistive state may gradually lose their conductivity across the chalcogenide glass layer and drift towards the high resistive state after an extended period of time. In particular, it has been found that metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory devices which are written using write voltages with pulse widths of less than 100 ns have a tendency to gradually lose their low resistance characteristic in as little as a week. Accordingly, such variable resistance memory devices may require some intermittent refreshing to maintain optimal operation of the devices.

In addition to intermittent refresh operations, metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells may require an occasional reset operation to reset the bistable resistance levels. Over time, the resistance levels resulting from application of various threshold voltages tend to drift. The drifting voltage/resistance (V/R) relationship is further explained below in the context of write and erase operations via measured voltage/resistance curves.

A standard voltage/resistance curve for a write operation performed on a properly functioning metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is illustrated in FIG. 6A. A voltage/resistance curve, such as that shown in FIG. 6A, is derived by measuring the resistance across the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell as a function of voltage for a given current. The initial or normal resistance level of a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is shown as R.sub.OFF, which is above a minimum threshold level R.sub.EMin in which the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is stable in a high resistance state. When the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is in the high resistance state and V.sub.TW is applied to the cell, the resistance drops to the level indicated by R.sub.ON, which is below a maximum threshold level R.sub.WMax in which the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is stable in a low resistance state.

FIG. 5B shows the same programming circuit 300 illustrated in FIG. 5A, except that an erase voltage V.sub.TE is applied to the bottom electrode 114 to illustrate an erase operation. By way of example, V.sub.TE has a voltage level of -0.75 V and a pulse width of about 8 ns. Upon the application of V.sub.TE to the bottom electrode 114 of the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell 310, the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell 310 returns to its high resistance ("off") state, thus erasing the binary value of "1" previously written in the cell, so that the value of "0" is again stored in the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell 310.

FIG. 6B shows a typical voltage-resistance curve for a metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell during an erase operation. As in FIG. 6A, R.sub.ON indicates the resistance level of the memory cell in the low resistance ("on") state, and R.sub.WMax represents the maximum resistance value at which the memory cell is stable in the low resistance state, while R.sub.OFF indicates a resistance level of the memory cell in the high resistance ("off") state, and R.sub.EMin demonstrates the minimum resistance value at which the memory cell is stable in the high resistance state. When the metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is in the low resistance state and V.sub.TE is subsequently applied to the cell, the resistance in the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell increases to the level indicated by R.sub.OFF. It is noted that the write voltage V.sub.TW is not necessarily of the same magnitude as the erase voltage V.sub.TE.

However, as mentioned above, the resistance profiles of metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells have a tendency to shift after a number of read or write operations have been applied to the cell. Specifically, the cell may eventually be written into an "on" state in which the resistance in that state is unacceptably high or unacceptably low, or an erase operation may place the cell in an "off" state in which the resistance in that state is unacceptably low or unacceptably high. This can happen in as few as about 400 write and erase cycles. Typical life expectancies for random access memory devices are on the order of 10.sup.14 write/erase cycles. Thus, the resistance drift should be corrected for longevity of operation of the memory cell.

The phenomenon of resistance drift is demonstrated in FIG. 7, which depicts the case when the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell drifts towards a low resistance "off" state R.sub.DE, meaning that after repeated cycles over time, the "off" state resistance achieved upon application of the fixed erase voltage V.sub.TE falls below the level R.sub.OFF shown in FIG. 6B. Similarly, the memory cell exhibits an unusually low resistance "on" state R.sub.ON. The resistance R.sub.ON becomes progressively more variable and drifts increasingly lower upon the performance of repeated erase cycles until application of the threshold erase voltage V.sub.TE is consistently insufficient to bring the memory cell to the minimum stable high resistance level R.sub.EMin, as illustrated in FIG. 6. Once this condition is reached, subsequent erase operations will fail to erase the stored value in the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell, causing a breakdown in the function of the chalcogenide variable resistance memory device. Additionally, continued write cycles applied to these already low resistance state memory cells result in pushing the memory cells into an even lower resistance state.

A solution to the voltage/resistance curve shift problem described above and illustrated in FIG. 7 is to periodically reset the memory cells to an original high resistance level. An applied reset or "hard" erase pulse serves to reestablish the original resistance profile of the memory cell in the high resistance state. The "hard" erase pulse may be applied by increasing the voltage level and/or the pulse width relative to erase voltage V.sub.TE applied in a normal erase operation. A "normal" erase pulse is illustrated in FIG. 8A having, for example, a voltage level of -0.8 V and a duration of 8 ns. A first type of "hard" erase pulse is shown in FIG. 8B, in which the applied pulse is the same duration as the normal erase pulse, but has a negative voltage level of a magnitude greater than the -0.8 V of the normal erase pulse. An alternative "hard" erase pulse is shown in FIG. 8C, in which the "hard" erase pulse has the sane magnitude as the normal erase pulse, but has a longer pulse width. In a further alternative, the "hard" erase pulse may have both a greater magnitude and a longer duration than the normal erase pulse. The amount by which the voltage level or the duration of the "hard" erase pulse exceeds that of the normal erase pulse may vary depending on the amount of drift, or the amount by which R.sub.DE falls below R.sub.EMin.

A significant challenge exists in determining an appropriate magnitude of an applied "hard" erase voltage pulse, as illustrated in FIGS. 9A, 9B and 9C. A proposed metal ion doped chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell 500 is depicted in FIG. 9B, comprising a p-doped substrate 526 and two n-wells 520, 522. An access device 502 is depicted as a transistor, and is shown in both FIGS. 9A and 9B. The access device 502 is activated by an "on" word line 506 (i.e., a word line having a voltage sufficient to activate access device 502), which is connected to the gate of the transistor. The active access device 502 allows current to flow between the bit line 508 (connected to the source of the transistor) and the cell plate 510 (connected through the variable resistance memory element 504 to the drain of the transistor). In other words, when the access device 502 is activated, current must flow through two series resistances (refer to FIG. 9C). One resistance, the cell resistance, R.sub.cell, is highly variable, due to tie drifting R.sub.ON and R.sub.DE levels, as described in detail above. Typically, R.sub.cell can range anywhere from 5 k.circle-solid. to 46 k.circle-solid.. The other resistance that must be accounted for is the channel resistance, R.sub.channel, which is generally about 30 k.circle-solid.. With both resistances R.sub.cell, R.sub.channel in series, a voltage divider equation must be solved in order to determine the voltage across the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell 504.

.times. ##EQU00001## Using Equation 1, and setting (for purposes of example only) V.sub.BL to equal 2.2 V and V.sub.cpin to equal 0.6 V, the value of V.sub.cell will range from 0.23 V to 0.97 V as a result of the variable resistance of R.sub.cell. In other words, if the resistance-voltage curve for the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell has drifted too low, as shown in FIG. 7, then a normal "hard" erase voltage applied to V.sub.BL and V.sub.cpin may not create a sufficient differential to actually reset the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell.

From the discussion above, it should be appreciated that an improved method for effectuating a "hard" erase of a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is both needed and desired.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one embodiment of the invention, a method of erasing a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is provided. The chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell includes a p-doped substrate with an n-well and a chalcogenide variable resistance memory element. The method includes the step of applying to the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element a voltage that is less than a fixed voltage of the substrate. The applied voltage induces an erase current to flow from the substrate through the n-well and through the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element. The voltage may be applied to a single chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell, or to an array of chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells, resulting in the erasure of the entire array. The voltage may be applied periodically in order to reset the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells, or it may be applied only upon power-up or power-down operations. The voltage may also be applied to chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells whose voltage-resistance curves have shifted below a minimum erasure resistance level. When the voltage is applied, the substrate acts as a diode when current flows across the substrate, thus making the resistance across the substrate independent of the resistance across the chalcogenide variable resistance memory elements.

In other embodiments of the invention, a chalcogenide variable resistance memory device, an array of chalcogenide variable resistance memory devices, and a processing system that includes at least one array of chalcogenide variable resistance memory devices are provided. The chalcogenide variable resistance memory devices are such that the application, to the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element, of a voltage that is less than a fixed voltage of the substrate induces an erase current to flow from the substrate through the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element.

These and other aspects of the invention will be more clearly recognized from the following detailed description of the invention which is provided in connection with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a basic composition of a prior art variable resistance memory cell;

FIG. 2 is a prior art variable resistance memory cell with access device;

FIG. 3 shows the physical structure of a prior art variable resistance memory cell;

FIG. 4 is a prior art memory device comprising variable resistance memory cells;

FIGS. 5A and 5B are illustrations of prior art chalcogenide variable resistance memory programming circuits;

FIGS. 6A and 6B are illustrations of standard voltage-resistance curves for a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell;

FIG. 7 is an illustration of a shifted voltage-resistance curve for a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell;

FIGS. 8A, 8B and 8C are illustrations of erase pulses for a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell;

FIGS. 9A, 9B and 9C show an access device with a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell illustrating a voltage divider circuit;

FIGS. 10A and 10B show a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell constructed in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 11 is a processor system incorporating chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

In the following detailed description, reference is made to various specific structural and process embodiments of the invention. These embodiments are described with sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention. It is to be understood that other embodiments may be employed, and that various structural, logical and electrical changes may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention.

According to the invention, a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell is subject to an erase operation. In order to erase a chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell, such as that shown in FIG. 3, a voltage differential must be created across the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 104 to induce a current capable of changing the resistance of the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 104. Traditionally, as explained above, the necessary erasing current has been generated by raising the voltage potential of bit line 108 to a level higher than the voltage potential of cell plate 110. Then, when word line 106 was activated, thus activating the access device 102, an erase current would flow through the access device 102 and the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 104 from bit line 108 to cell plate 110. However, the inventor has determined that if, as is described below, current were to flow instead from and through the substrate 126 to the cell plate 110, the prior art voltage-divider problem would be avoided.

Referring now to FIG. 10A, wherein a chalcogenide variable memory cell 600 is shown, an embodiment of the invention is depicted. As in the traditional chalcogenide variable resistance memory devices, the chalcogenide variable memory cell 600 includes a p-doped substrate 626, two n-wells 620, 622, and an access device 602 or transistor whose gate is connected to a word line 606, whose source is connected to a bit line 608, and whose drain is connected to the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 604. A voltage, V.sub.BB, is shown, representing the fixed voltage of the substrate 626. If the cell plate 610 voltage, V.sub.cpin, is lowered to a level that is less than V.sub.BB, and if the word line 606 is maintained in an "off" state, then a current may be induced to flow from the substrate 626 to the cell plate 610 and through the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 604. This current, if strong enough, could effectuate an erase operation.

When current flows from the p-doped substrate 626 to the cell plate 610, the current necessarily passes through the n-well 622 acting as a drain for the access device 602. The resulting p-n junction behaves as a diode. Thus, instead of the erase current flowing through two series resistances, the erase current flows through a forward-biased diode and one resistance, R.sub.cell (refer to FIG. 10B). Voltage drops across forward-biased diodes are relatively constant (usually around 0.7 V), and thus the voltage drop across the chalcogenide variable resistance memory element 604 will simply equal the difference between the V.sub.BB-V.sub.cpin differential and the voltage across the diode, V.sub.diode. This relationship is shown below in Equation 2. V.sub.cell=V.sub.BB-V.sub.cpin-V.sub.diode Eq. 2 V.sub.cpin is easily adjusted in order to obtain the desired V.sub.cell. Additionally, because of the relative constancy of V.sub.diode, V.sub.cell is independent of R.sub.cell.

The above-described embodiment of the invention may be used to simultaneously perform erase operations on multiple or even all memory cells in a memory array such as that shown in FIG. 4. For each chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell in the array, V.sub.BB is the same. V.sub.cpin is lowered to a voltage level less than V.sub.BB for each chalcogenide variable resistance memory cell that is to be erased. Single memory cells may be erased. More commonly, entire rows or even blocks of memory cells may be erased. If desired the entire array of memory cells may be erased simultaneously.

In one embodiment of the invention, the described erase method is used as a standard hill array erase operation every time an erase operation is necessary. In another embodiment of the invention, the erase method is used to reset the resistances of the chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells periodically, for example, every 10 or 100 memory cycles, wherein a memory cycle is the amount of time required for a memory) to complete a read or write operation. Furthermore, the erase method could be used on power-up or power-down of a memory array. Additionally, the erase method could be used on individual chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells in order to repair (via an erase operation) memory cells whose measured voltage-resistance curves have drifted out of the range in which a traditional erase operation is effective. In theory, the voltage/resistance curves of each cell could be measured by measuring the resistance of the cells as a function of applied voltage for a given current. However, in practice, it may be assumed that the voltage/resistance curve for a given memory cell has slipped below a threshold minimal erase level (as demonstrated in FIG. 7) when the cell no longer responds to other proposed erase methods (such as the method of FIG. 9). If a non-responsive memory cell is observed via parity checking or other error-revealing methods, then either the one non-responsive memory cell or an entire block of memory, cells that contains the non-responsive memory cell may be erased and reset using the disclosed erase method.

FIG. 11 illustrates a typical processor system 1000 which includes a memory circuit 1040 such as a chalcogenide variable resistance memory device, which employs chalcogenide variable resistance memory cells fabricated in accordance with the invention. A processor system, such as a computer system, generally comprises a central processing unit (CPU) 1010, such as a microprocessor, a digital signal processor, or other programmable digital logic devices, which communicates with an input/output (I/O) device 1020 over a bus 1090. The memory circuit 1040 communicates with the CPU 1010 over bus 1090 typically through a memory controller.

In the case of a computer system, the processor system may include peripheral devices such as removable media devices 1050 which communicate with CPU 1010 over the bus 1090. Memory circuit 1040 is preferably constructed as an integrated circuit, which includes one or more resistance variable memory devices. If desired, the memory circuit 1040 may be combined with the processor, for example CPU 1010, in a single integrated circuit.

The above description and drawings should only be considered illustrative of exemplary embodiments that achieve the features and advantages of the invention. Modification and substitutions to specific process conditions and structures can be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, the invention is not to be considered as being limited by the foregoing description and drawings, but is only limited by the scope of the appended claims.

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